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How Much Personal Space Does Your Cat Need?

One of my 6 cats keeps to himself, while other pairs are best friends. What's your experience?

Catherine Holm  |  Jul 20th 2016


I get to observe my cats a lot, and how they space themselves around each other. Some will cuddle, but other pairings never happen. Among six cats, the variations can get pretty interesting in terms of personal space. It’s a good thing I enjoy observing the cats so much.

Here are a few of the variations that occur in my household.

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Rama. He’s a bit snarky.

Rama

Rama (a big black male cat) has always kept to himself. He loves my undivided attention, but he clearly gets jealous if another cat is nearby when he is getting his special attention. He’ll vocally make his displeasure known, and he might lash out with a paw toward some of the cats with whom he’s a little less patient. Zorro is one of my cats with whom few of the others display any patience.

Rama generally has napped by himself. Years ago, he would sometimes be joined by Chester (an orange boy) or Keiran (a Turkish Van). Rama didn’t seem to mind these two so close to him, but he never groomed them, and they never groomed him. Then, many years passed where Rama essentially napped alone, always.

Then Norton entered the picture. Norton is an easygoing, fun-loving, physical boy, and the youngest of the bunch. Lately I’ve been pleased to see Norton often sleeping with Rama. I even saw them grooming each other the other day. You have to be a cat parent to appreciate the special quality of this moment, especially with a traditionally snarky cat like Rama. Rama even plays and wrestles with Norton now — this is huge progress, as Rama is a very serious (and somewhat insecure) cat and has never played much with any other cat in the household.

These instances have always fascinated me. Why do these things change over time, sometimes? Why do they sometimes never change? Does it take the perfect combination of cats for something to happen?

norton chester

Norton and Chester often groom each other and nap together.

Zorro and Chester

These are two very easygoing cats, but for some reason, Chester has suddenly decided that he cannot tolerate Zorro getting too close to him. There seems to be no predictability as to when things may or may not escalate. Chester has always gotten along with everyone. He had no problem with Zorro for the first year and a half of Zorro’s time in this household. And sometimes they’re near each other — napping, hanging out, whatever — and things are just fine. But other times, with no warning, Chester will suddenly start to stare down Zorro. Sometimes he corners Zorro, and a scuffle ensues. There’s no guessing when this will happen. Keeping the Feliway diffusers full does not seem to alleviate this. It either happens, or it doesn’t.

Strangely, it does finally seem to be subsiding (I hope). I’ve not heard any scuffles for several days. But I’m not sure what triggers this. Why can a cat sometimes tolerate another cat nearby, yet become ballistic on other occasions?

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Norton and Zorro have always been friends. Zorro annoys some others, but nobody annoys Norton.

An expert gives input

Amy Shojai, certified animal behavior consultant for cats and dogs, and award-winning author, confirms what I’ve noticed. She says that every cat is an individual, and “just like people, attitude may vary from day to day.” Amy says that in feral cat populations, normal territorial range might be more than two miles, “so when we truncate the cat’s territory by confining him/her to a house or apartment, many cats get their tails in a twist.”

Whether cats are able to share resources might depend on factors such as value of and access to the resource (treats/food, sleeping spots, lookouts, or humans). I know that Rama, who is very food oriented, doesn’t want any cat near him when he gets a treat. As I suspected, a cat’s tolerance regarding personal space, according to Amy, also has to do with how confident or insecure the cat might be.

“Age influences c’attitude,” she says. “And so does weather. Cloudy days and colder weather seem to prompt some cats to be more accepting of sharing beds — maybe for the warmth.”

So, cats are unique individuals, but they can change over time. A lot of variables enter into this, and for those of us with multicat households, it can make for some fascinating observations.

Do some of your cats need a lot of personal space? Do others not? Does this vary? What patterns have you noticed, if any?